Thursday, August 8, 2013

Grantland: How I'd fix the NHL

Grantland asked me how I'd fix the NHL, so I gave them a list of everything from the relatively easy (kill the loser point, drop the puck-over-glass penalty, crack down on diving) to the contentious (bigger nets, eliminate goons, a new way to determine draft order) and plenty more.

>> Read the full post on Grantland


  1. Good read. I agree with it all because it makes sense. Go figure.

  2. Great read, as always!

    Am I a bad person and/or hockey fan for liking shootouts? I'm perfectly fine with extending overtime, and I also think three point games are ridiculous (unless all games are worth three points). But I find the shootout entertaining.

    Maybe it's because I didn't grow up playing anything other than the occasional street hockey game. If baseball decided that after the 11th inning they'd have a home run derby to decide the winner, I'd be a bit upset about that. So I get it. But being who I am, I'm good with the shootout.

    I really liked your solution for the puck over the glass rule. I'm actually okay with the rule as it is because it discourages teams from dumping pucks out by using the glass. I HATE that. But if we got rid of the penalty, your solution would be a good one. Make it the same penalty as icing, since it's the same type of infraction.

    1. Since I don't know you, Daniel, I won't comment on your affinity for the shootout (as I commented below, I think they're horrible, but since were both fans of hockey we'll just agree to disagree right now and move on). Your analogy to baseball puts into words more eloquently than have I regarding the shootout.

      As for the puck over the glass rule, as long as the delay-of-game threat is available, based on the judgement of the officials, I'm fine with equating it with the icing rule. Probably 95% of these penalties in the past have been of the accidental variety, but those few where it was done "accidently-on-purpose" need to be recognized as such.

    2. Wide Right, No Goal, Forward Pass, No Goal 2. Welcome to Buffalo.August 14, 2013 at 10:24 PM

      The shootout is good, but getting a point for failing not just in the shootout but in the overtime period and the rest of the whole game as well. No points for shootout or overtime losses and 2 points for those victories. That way the games are all worth the same and yet there is still the excitement at the end of a game.

  3. Excellent work as always.

    Dunno if I'd call puck over the glass the dumbest rule in sports, though. I mean yes, it is an absolutely, fantastically dumb rule that deserves to be dragged out to a barn, beaten up by Brian Burke, then dragged out behind that barn and shot, but there are still some that are even worse. Golf actually has a downright obscene set of archaic infractions, many of which make the PotG rule seem downright sensible by comparison.

    1. And, for what it's worth, I'm not sold on hybrid icing. The goal is to cut down on horrific icing injuries, but almost all of those injuries tend to occur on icing plays that are close - I.E. the ones that hybrid icing wouldn't affect, because there's a chance the pursuing player could catch up to the puck in time.

      I like the NHL's current solution of giving a penalty for any check on an icing call (even if it can lead to some confusion when players in a loud arena don't realise icing is about to be called), but if you're going to change it, I say you should go whole hog and just straight up use the international style of icing.

  4. Here's one more revision that I believe meshes well with your excellent changes/adjustments:
    (I originally wrote it in 09, so please forgive the dates on the stats... I'm too lazy to update. Meh)

    1956-57 - Player serving a minor penalty allowed to return to Ice when a goal  is scored by opposing team.
    Prior to this rule change, minor penalties were served in similar fashion to that which major penalties are served today: full penalty time regardless of how many goals are scored within that penalty time.
    This rule was apparently changed to the current penalization rules in an effort to reduce the scoring (and thereby dominance) of the vaunted Montreal Canadiens of the 1950's... but in today's NHL the parity is such that the 'playing field' is already levelled by the use of free agency, the increased roster-sizes when compared to that of the 1950's, the globalization of the game and its' players (as opposed to the predominantly North American talent pool of the 1950's), and the overall talent and number of players and teams now in the NHL as opposed to that which were playing in that era.
    What I propose is to simply roll-back this rule to its' previous definition: 2 minute penalties are served in full, regardless of how many goals are scored by the man-advantaged team!   
    This also provides ease of understanding to the new fans to whom the NHL is always attempting to appeal - 2 mins is 2 mins.  5 mins is 5 mins.  Easy enough to comprehend, and easy enough to regulate.   
    Moreover this should prove to be a much greater deterrent to being penalized in the first place, thereby instilling an imperative in paying specific attention to the 'new' rules put forth by the league. 
    With the top Power Play in the 2007-08 NHL (Montreal) scoring on 24.7% of their power plays and with the top Penalty Killing team (San Jose and St Louis) killing 88.7 and 88.4% of their penalized situations, these changes would not have a revolutionary affect upon the way the game is played, but rather provide a virtually guaranteed-increase in the amount of time spent with fewer skaters (thus more room to manoevre/operate) on the ice per game: over 13% more (using the league-best PK of 88.7% minus Boston's 75.6%). 
    It would also reinforce the 'new' rules by ever-so-slightly increasing the punishment, both on the clock and on the ice.

  5. Also, regarding your OT proposal to 10min:

    The progression of overtime periods in the NHL:
    1921-22 - Overtime limited to twenty minutes.
    1927-28 - Ten minutes of sudden-death overtime to be played if the score is tied after regulation time.
    1928-29 - Ten-minute overtime without sudden-death provision to be played in games tied  after regulation time. Games tied after this overtime period declared a draw.
    1942-43 - Because of wartime restrictions on train scheduling, regular-season  overtime was discontinued on November 21, 1942.
    1983-84 - Five-minute sudden-death overtime to be played in regular-season games that are tied at the end of regulation time.
    1999-2000 -  As before, there will be a five minute sudden death overtime when the score is tied after three periods, but each team will play "four on four", with four skaters and a goaltender. In the event that penalties dictate that one team has a two man advantage, the penalized team plays with three skaters, while  the team with the two man advantage adds a fifth skater. 
    The idea of overtime was only re-instituted 29 years ago.  Before 83-84, overtime was no, n-existent having been removed from regular season games due to wartime train schedule restrictions back in 42-43... but before then, overtime periods consisted of 10 minutes of play.

  6. However, regarding the bigger net idea, there are outlying concerns:

    Increasing the size of the goal nets poses the ENORMOUS problem of "what minor hockey age group to start the net-size increase?" not to mention the costs associated with the changes.  Minor hockey is already very expensive for the parents of young players; increasing the net sizes will ultimately cost them at all levels across hockey, as the nets in use would have to be replaced at some point in the development of minor hockey players.  It's quite conceivable different levels of hockey would be mandated to gradually increase their net sizes, thereby requiring 2 (or more?) sets of different-sized nets.  And what affect will this have on the development of minor hockey goaltenders?  Playing one level with one sized net, then playing the next level with different dimensions?  And what affect upon the game globally?  Just because a change is instituted in the NHL does not necessarily mean it will be adopted world-wide.

    Even if the bigger nets were restricted to North-American professional hockey only (NHL/AHL), the obvious affect will be goaltenders who have played hockey for upwards of 15 years with a regular-sized net behind them not being able to effectively cover angles and thus not be able to defend their goal properly since those angles had not been there at any point in their development as a goalie.

    1. The counterpoint to this is that a goalie coming up through the ranks is already adjusting to their body size changing, so adjusting to the net size changing as well isn't neccessarily going to be a huge deal.

      I mean, a goalie at Age 12 is going to be a different size than that same goalie at Ages 15, 18, and 22. Goalies are already dealing with that, so is dealing with additional net space neccessarily going to throw them off *that much*, especially when, as DGB points out, the change in size is relatively minor?

    2. This is also not a huge issue in youth baseball. In Little League, once kids turn 13, they jump from 60-foot bases and a 45-foot pitching mound to 90 feet and 60.5 feet, respectively. It takes some adjustment, but I would think the same thing could be done with youth hockey around the same age.

      Would it be a problem, though, to need two sets of peg holes for the goal? One set would always be exposed.

  7. There are a few issues with this otherwise good list.

    The main one is the diving thing. You can't base calls on reputation, particularly not explicitly, because player reputations are usually only tenuously connected to reality. They're also media-driven. I do not want an NHL where players, coaches (coughClaudeJuliencough) and GM's attempt to win games by pursuing a marketing agenda in the hopes that it will earn them an extra power play. There is a rule against embellishment on the books, if referees simply call it when they believe they've seen it, things will improve.

    The second thing is the late hits rule. I don't know how anyone who knows anything about playing hockey can suggest this. By getting rid of the puck over glass rule and replacing it with this you've effectively swapped one "worst hockey rule ever" for another. This isn't football, guys are on ice on skates. When you've committed to hitting a guy, it is basically impossible to avoid that collision for a period of time, depending on your speed. In many cases attempting to do so presents a serious risk of injury (half-avoiding a hit and winging a guy on the knee, for example). If you wanted to remove hitting altogether, this would be a good way to do it, because no one would ever be practically capable of going for a hit in a way that they could be sure wouldn't result in a penalty. Ever.

    1. Refs already call based on reputation. A well-known pest/diver suddenly grabbing his face and tumbling to the ice is treated differently by the refs than, say, a Nik Lidstrom or Teemu Selanne doing the same. In making it explicit, basically the only thing you'd change is having the NHL say to the refs "We're not going to fault you for doing this. Go nuts."

      I agree that the hitting rule is one that I don't think was fully thought through. I know that if *any* late hit was a penalty, I'd draw them frequently by grabbing the puck, sailing over the blue line, waiting until a defencemen is too close to avoid hitting me, then throwing the puck... well, pretty much anywhere. Either the defenceman has to make a scrambly attempt to avoid me now that I suddenly don't have the puck (dangerous, could lead to clipping as you suggested) or he hits me anyways and gets a penalty.

      I'm not convinced late hits are an issue that warrants meddling with, since the refs seem to be doing a pretty OK job working on the "judgement call" system. Yeah, consistency wouldn't be a terrible thing, but I don't think this is the way to do it and any attempt to implement a football-style "steamboat" system is doomed to failure (in a fast-passing play, the refs would basically have to be counting steamboats for 3-4 players at the same time).

  8. I'm with Sean on this one. I'd much rather see the other team's interesting jersey when I go to a game. The home team's jersey doesn't change either way - it's always the same color. But it's nice to see different colors depending on who the visiting team is, rather than always white.

  9. It didn't say anything for realignment, but the theory I would have had for a realignment:

    -We can't fire Bettman [unfortunately]. So, any realignment plan would have to theoretically please him and the voices in his head.

    -At the moment, the Eastern/Western conferences is too close to basketball [and doesn't work as well for hockey]. Plus, the way of the last realignment makes it clear: the NHL will expand to 32 teams imminently, and they're giving two new teams to the Western Conference.

    -On the flipside, relocating teams from the Southern United States is unlikely in bad markets. We won't get the additional teams in Canada to make a Canadian conference anything more than a pipe dream.

    Solution, in theory:

    Change the Eastern/Western Conference to a Northern/Southern Conference. It's not perfect, but instead of the Atlantic/Metropolitan/Central/Pacific, you can likely get a reasonable [albeit with bugs to work out] four divisions of:

    NORTHEAST: Boston, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Islanders, Rangers, Philadelphia, Buffalo
    NORTHWEST: Pittsburgh, Detroit, Minnesota, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Chicago
    SOUTHEAST: New Jersey, Tampa Bay, Florida, Carolina, Nashville, Columbus, Washington
    SOUTHWEST: Dallas, Los Angeles, San Jose, Phoenix, Anaheim, St. Louis, Colorado

    It's got bugs to work out, but in theory, you have: All four divisions making reasonable sense, a division format that would make more sense for the NHL than other sports, uses the Bettman factor of "relegate the southern teams to one conference to guarantee at least one makes the Stanley Cup finals a la the West Division when expansion started"'s not perfect, but it's a start.

  10. Loved the piece.

    I get that people like fights, but they are dumb, occasionally dangerous, stagey and slow down the game. A writer to The Sporting News Ages ago suggested that whenever a fight breaks out, the referee should pick up the puck, stand aside, count to 10--or 15, or 20, or whatever--then skate to the nearest faceoff circle, drop the puck and start the clock.

    Now that would be fun to see.

  11. There are some interesting ideas. But all of this assumes there is a problem that can be fixed with rules tweaks and the like. I submit that if the "problem" is "hockey needs bigger numbers/popularity" then none of these proposed fixes-- even if they're good ideas-- will have much effect.

    Just as with soccer, where sports executives and media types constantly say things like "soccer would be more popular if it had more scoring..." (or "no ties" or "got rid of off-sides" etc., etc.), everyone misses the point: people don't watch sports because of its game mechanics.

    I've written about this (to myself; I have no idea who'd publish it), but I think it's quite clear that little tweaks aren't the solution.

  12. I have always believed that the greatness of hockey less in its all out assault on your senses. The sights, the sounds, even the smells if you've been around after a game. With home team in color, every game looks the same and impairs the visual appeal to the core fan that sees more than one game per season. The one time viewer may not notice, which I guess is ok since that is Gary Bettman's target audience.

  13. Had to stop at the end of Part I, because I was seeing too much common sense changes proposed there and wanted to toss in my 2 cents. I want to merge a couple of your changes into one -- grant three points for a win of any kind, one point each for a tie, one full overtime period (5-on-5, not 4-on-4) and NO skills competition if the game goes beyond four periods. The shootout is fine for the minor leagues, but the pro-level should not be saddled with this loser of an idea to wrap up a game. I may be a rare bird in these parts, but a tie game at the end is much better than gifting points on whichever team's goalie is having a better day after all of the skaters have finished.

  14. I like the enforcer rule, but I think it would be fun to go one step further and tie it to minutes played. Less minutes played, less fights before suspension. That way it would also force a coach to put these guys on the ice for real meaningful time during the game rather than just letting them sit until the end of the game or key 'fighting moments'. Players who contribute get more lenience when it comes to fighting. It would also help avoid replacement enforcers with clean fighting records getting called up later in the season to replace ones that have already run into suspension issues, since they are starting with 0 minutes played and need to build up their stock.

  15. I don't care which colour is used. I just want consistency!!! I grew up with home whites. They then switched to home darks. Okay fine, took a little while to get used to. But now it seems like either set gets used at home. PICK ONE!!!